Actress SABRINA BARTLETT is reviving a role she felt destined to play – a role that propelled her predecessor to Hollywood. As The Darling Buds of May reboots for a new generation, Cole Moreton has a burning question: is she ready for stardom?
It takes guts to take on the role that made Catherine Zeta-Jones famous, but Sabrina Bartlett who plays Mariette in The Larkins, ITV’s new adaptation of The Darling Buds of May – is up for anything. So much so that she even laughed at having a black eye while filming.
“There was a scene where I had to fight and I loved it,” she says. “They must have covered the bruise and filmed one side of my face. We went. We were wild, it was absolutely hysterical. We have strawberries in places they shouldn’t go! The other actress nudged me, I heard a popping sound and I saw stars and I thought, “It’s gone a bit far.”
The Larkins are 30-year-old Sabrina’s big break after a decade of supporting roles in Bridgerton, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. She is well aware that everyone will compare her to Zeta-Jones, who was first hailed as a star and propelled to Hollywood after playing the same role in the ’90s.
The relaunched series is a fresh take on the original HE Bates novels, with a more daring Mariette. Bradley Walsh stars as Pop Larkin – made iconic by David Jason in the previous adaptation – who, with his slogan “Perfick!”, Is the gregarious head of a large family living an idyllic 1950s life in a village in the Kent.
Sabrina looks crisp in a hot pink sleeveless top and houndstooth skirt as we sit in a Hastings cafe drinking coffee. We’re not far from where she lives with her parents, and they, she says, were the first to notice the bruise. “I went home and they said, ‘Is everything okay? What’s wrong with your face? The other actors playing their first roles would have panicked, but Sabrina seems to have been thrilled. “I was so proud of it. I showed everyone: “Look, I do my own stunts! It’s a nod to the fact that her sister Saskia is a professional stunt performer. “She sets herself on fire and makes guns on horseback, it’s amazing.” The Bartlett’s are a talented bunch. “I have a half-brother Ben who composes music for film and television and Atlanta, my half-sister, is an interior designer who also writes books.”
Sabrina was born in Fulham, west London, but was raised in a secluded Romney Marsh home by artist Sharon and Stephen Bartlett. “I believe the reason I got The Larkins is that my sister and I grew up riding in Kent like Mariette and she comes from a big family just like me. Reading the script was like reading my childhood.
The auditions took place while Sabrina filmed Bridgerton, portrayed as Siena Rosso, opera singer and mistress of Anthony Bridgerton. “I would play all those high-rise romantic scenes with champagne and parties, and then I would run off the set, put on my crappiest jeans and an old sweater, do my hair in a bun, and take off my makeup to attend auditions for The Larkins. ‘
Sabrina won’t be in Bridgerton season two as the plot centers around different cast members. “It’s not official, but they left the door open for Siena’s return in season three.” At one point during the second lockdown, Bridgerton was the most-watched show on Netflix with over 82 million viewers in its first month, but Sabrina missed much of the fuss. “Living in Hastings and strolling the waterfront wrapped in a scarf, I didn’t really get involved in the buzz. “
She remains a close friend of the show’s main lady, Phoebe Dynevor, and the two turned Instagram on in August with pictures from a vacation they took together in Croatia. “The crazy thing was because we both worked a lot, we literally decided the day before that we had to go on a four day vacation, just the two of us. It’s pretty scary as an actor to take the time to say, “I’m not available. I’m going to sit by the pool, read a book, and do something for myself for once.
The Larkins was filmed for five months this year on a working farm in Kent. “It wasn’t until I got on set that I realized how many people had watched Bridgerton, because everyone there knew who I was. I’ve never had this before. How did he feel? ‘So strange. All my life, I have dreamed of recognition, respect, recognition. Basically, it’s something that all the players want. It sounds lame, but you work so hard and there are a lot of horrible times when you feel very small. How does she mean? “Fair in general with the casting process. You are made to feel that you don’t matter. It takes so much self-confidence and fantasy to stay connected to what you love to do.
Me, an English rose? I have a funny nose, a weird voice and I’m clumsy!
Before falling in love with the theater, Sabrina was a ballet dancer, which enabled her to respond to a childhood diagnosis of dyspraxia, the disorder of physical coordination. “A lot of things were difficult for me, so the suggestion was made that dancing would help.” She was sent to the Tring Park School for the Performing Arts. “Going through puberty and living in a dorm with six other girls was so intense, just like the worst of ballet class. I used to dance to Michael Jackson in my room, and then I went to ballet school and saw identical leotards, buns all the same, and I thought, “What- what I have done ?
Sabrina finally had the courage to ask her parents to change schools and ended up in the Guildford School of Acting. After graduation, she quickly found work and appeared in Midsomer Murders, Holby City and Poldark. She also played Maid Marian in Doctor Who and a disguised version of the heroine Arya Stark in Game of Thrones.
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Mariette in The Darling Buds of May 1991; Sabrina returns to the iconic role of the Larkins
Playing a lead role this time around was a big step forward. “You get to a point in a shoot where you’re pretty broken up. You get up at 5 in the morning, you are the first person there, the last to leave, you do extremely emotional and physical scenes as well as comedy. You are at the heart of the story. Burnout makes you do crazy things. It erodes your brain.
Sabrina – who is currently single – has never seen the ’90s version of The Darling Buds of May. Can she imagine having the same kind of reaction as her predecessor, who was hailed as one of Britain’s most desirable women after playing Mariette? ‘Surely not! It’s wild for me. I am not very cool. I am not very sure of myself and sensual.
Is she ready to receive all the attention that comes her way? “I wanted this moment for so long, but I also want to continue to evolve. I never thought I could sing opera, and I did it for Bridgerton. I never thought I could gallop into a scene – and I did for The Larkins. I always felt like I didn’t necessarily tick the box to be the perfect girl, the English rose. I always thought I had a funny nose, a weird voice, I’m a little awkward. So we’ll see. We will indeed. But it’s hard not to imagine Pop Larkin taking his daughter’s hand and saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
The Larkins will start October 10 on ITV and via catch-up on ITV Hub
Director: Ester Malloy.
Fashion editor: Sophie Dearden.
Fashion assistant: Stéphanie Sofokleous.
Hair: Liz Taw at The Wall Group.
Make-up: Kenneth Soh of the Wall Group.